By Zeke J Miller and Alex Altman
January 22, 2015

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer announced Thursday that he won’t run for the California Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Barbara Boxer.

“Given the imperative of electing a Democratic president — along with my passion for our state — I believe my work right now should not be in our nation’s capitol but here at home in California, and in states around the country where we can make a difference,” Steyer wrote in an op-ed published in the Huffington Post.

The decision will cheer Democrats. The former hedge-fund manager emerged as the party’s counterweight to the billionaire Koch Brothers in the 2014 midterms, spending some $75 million through his political-action committee, NextGen Climate. His flirtation with a Senate bid spooked party operatives, who feared Steyer could plow his fortune into self-funding his own campaign rather than those of other Democrats.

Privately, many Democrats have been urging Steyer not to run, arguing his efforts and money would be better spent outside a deep-blue state where the party has several strong candidates capable of holding the seat.

“This was a very hard decision,” Steyer said. “The U.S. Senate offers a unique opportunity to serve, but I also know that we will have excellent candidates. I applaud and respect those running, and am confident that Californians will choose a representative who will serve them well.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris declared her candidacy last week after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would not seek the seat as he prepares to run for governor in 2018. Harris has already secured endorsements from progressive Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has expressed interest in the seat, but has not made a decision yet.

Republicans, meanwhile, are struggling to identify a candidate willing to mount a longshot campaign in such an expensive state. California’s jungle primary system pits the top two finishers against each other in the general election regardless of party.

Steyer said he would “redouble my efforts working with partners and fellow citizens to push for change. The road we take may be less traveled and less well-marked, but I am very determined. The journey is far from over — in fact, it has just begun.”

Write to Alex Altman at alex_altman@timemagazine.com.

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